Out-Chanced in Indy

As in opener, Pacers beat up Pistons on boards to eke out a win

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

– The Pistons wrapped up the road portion of their schedule in the same place the season started 64 games and nearly four months ago. The result was the same – a loss – but they played the East’s No. 3 seed much more competitively this time around, losing 103-97. The Pistons placed six players in double figures. The Pacers got a big game from second-year wing Paul George, who gave them 27 points, 10 boards and four assists. Indiana rested starters Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert and George Hill.

BLUE COLLAR – Greg Monroe has admitted to being physically wrung out from the compacted season, especially the recent stretch that saw the Pistons play six games in eight nights. But he’s finishing strong. One night after grabbing 17 rebounds, Monroe recorded his 30th double-double against the Pacers with 18 points and 12 boards. The last time a Piston player recorded 30 or more double-doubles in a season: Ben Wallace during the 2003-04 championship year. Monroe’s night was marred by five turnovers and 2 of 6 foul shooting, including 1 of 4 in the final minute.

RED FLAG – The Pistons got great production off their bench, especially in the first half when they scored 25 points and mad 10 of 13 shots. But they still trailed by two at the break, mostly because Indiana outscored them 13-4 in transition and 17-7 on second-chance points, making the most of 10 first-half offensive rebounds. The Pacers won it by battering the Pistons on the offensive glass, grabbing 22 of them and converting them into 32 points, a season best for Indiana.

Much has changed for the Pistons since they lost their season opener Dec. 26 at Indiana. But not everything. In that opener, Indiana crushed the Pistons on the glass, outrebounding them 53-40. The Pistons returned for the 2011-12 road finale Monday night and played the Pacers much tougher, but the backboard again was their undoing.

Indiana outrebounded them by nearly the same margin – 56-42 this time – but did much greater damage on the offensive glass. The Pacers converted 22 offensive rebounds into a season-best 32 second-chance points. Fifteen of those offensive boards came off Indiana’s bench, including five by Tyler Hansbrough, who ripped a David West miss away from Greg Monroe with 30 seconds to go and hit two free throws to put the Pacers ahead by three in a game they would win 103-97.

“The game came down to free throws and rebounds,” Lawrence Frank said. “We gave up 32 second-chance points and we were minus 16 in free throw makes. Just think about all those extra possessions. We still had great opportunities, good looks, had free throws, but all those extra possessions add up and it put us in a situation where it’s a make-or-miss game and, unfortunately, tonight we missed.”

“We gave up some rebounds, missed some shots and we were a step slow,” Brandon Knight said. “It led to us coming up a little bit short. We’ve grown a lot, but we still have a lot of work to do, still have a lot of things we need to get better at to be a playoff team and eventually reach our goals.”

To be sure, the game showed how far the Pistons have come … and the distance remaining ahead of them. To stay competitive in a game where one stat was so slanted against them – outscored by 20 in second-chance points – wouldn’t have been possible in the early going.

“Our approach is different,” Frank said. “Early on, if we got down it was over – a little bit of a glass-jaw mentality. Now our guys have a greater belief in each other and what we’re doing. We’ll continue to fight and claw, yet we’re far from a finished product.”

On an individual level, Greg Monroe stands as a shining example. A legitimate candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, Monroe was impressive in recording his 30th double-double of the season with 18 points and 12 rebounds. He made several eyebrow-raising moves to score with either hand around the basket.

Yet Monroe also had his share of struggles. He turned the ball over five times, including a costly fourth-quarter pass in transition that sailed out of bounds. He missed 4 of 6 free throws, including 3 of 4 in the final minute. And that rebound he couldn’t pry away from Hansbrough was symbolic of the game.

“I’ve definitely got to do a better job of making those free throws, especially at that time of the game,” Monroe said. “It’s just as simple as that. Got to make those free throws and you’ve got to get some loose balls and rebounds and the game might go the other way.”

“Greg’s had a very, very good year,” Frank said. “As we’ve always said, I still think there’s a lot more for him to go. I don’t get into numerical accomplishments – I’m into letters. But Greg has grown. He’s gotten better as a player.”

Five other Pistons scored in double figures, Knight impressive with 16 points, four rebounds and four assists, on a night Frank did a little more tinkering with the rotation. Austin Daye played more than 18 minutes as backup to Tayshaun Prince (14 points) and played a particularly strong first half, finishing with 11 points and four boards, while Jonas Jerebko and Damien Wilkins didn’t play.

Vernon Macklin, playing as Ben Wallace sat out, made his case in under 14 minutes to be in consideration for a rotation spot next season, scoring six points and grabbing six rebounds with a blocked shot that showed off his ability to cover ground. Charlie Villanueva provided scoring punch with 13 points in 18 minutes, making 5 of 9 shots including 3 of 5 from the arc.

“Our bench outscored their bench in the first half,” Frank said. “They were productive. Those guys played well and put us in position to win the game.”

That’s a step the Pistons weren’t capable of taking the last time they visited Indiana. Closing out a few more of those games within their grasp will be the next step ahead for the Pistons.